The comfortably run-down and now abandoned location of Ton Kiang on the corner of Spruce had been a favorite of mine, and until now I couldnt bring myself to try the remaining restaurant further out on Geary. But when Rochelle Shellfood and I lost track of the time enjoying our limoncello sampling, Ton Kiang turned out to be one of the few places in the Avenues that was still open and would seat us for dinner after 9:30pm.
Dining with another chowhound is an occasion for going all out. We ordered Hakka specialties with abandon: salt baked chicken, rice wine sauce prawns with pickled greens, squid and sugar peas with XO sauce, and fresh bacon with dried mustard greens.
The menu lists the bacon as steamed, but that hardly captures the intense flavors of the complex master sauce used to braise this fatty piece of side pork. In my post on South Seas Seafood Village, I found the master sauce there still simple, lacking depth and immature. In contrast Ton Kiangs sauce contains the boiled-down essence of thousands of flavor nuances from meats, herbs, and spices that have passed through this kitchen. The browned rind and layers of fat were meltingly unctuous and the streaks of porcine flesh practically dissolved in the mouth. Chopped bits of dried greens added a peppery and rustic bitter edge to balance out the texture and rich flavor of the bacon. Rochelle tossed aside her cholestrol inhibitions to try this one, and said, Gawd, this is incredibly delicious. I cant believe that Ive just eaten something with a half inch by two inch piece of pure pork fat . . . omigod, I just ate another one! I commented that I indulge in this homestyle fatty pleasure maybe twice a year and then spend the balance quaffing red wine to counteract any ill effects.
Our other dishes were good but missed the mark of greatness, not quite living up to the reputation of this restaurant. The salt baked chicken that should be a slam-dunk here was overcooked and not red at the bone. Rather than silky in texture, the meat was too firm to the bite. The half bird was a larger size than what I remember from the old place, maybe the kitchen made a miscalculation or missed the mark in reheating it. The sauce of chopped ginger in oil was lovely as always with it. The wine sauce prawns had been my favorite dish, yet the version here suffered from an overthickened sauce that was spot-on in flavor but had an almost gummy mouthfeel. The prawns were cooked to the perfect glassy texture (that would be underdone for some tastes), but I would have preferred the pickled veggies to be more finely chopped as in the dish of my memory. The calamari was slightly overdone as well, verging into rubbery rather than tender.
The wait staff were friendly and attentive even as the place was closing for the night. I would return, but perhaps earlier in the day to catch the kitchen at its best.
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